Incorruptible, Indeed.

Illustration by Kevin Hong.

Illustration by Kevin Hong.

So I wake up in a stranger’s apartment in Montreal, reset routers and flush/re-register dns caches and do all those other should-be-unnecessary things this piece-of-shit Lenovo demands I do before it spins some internal roulette wheel to decide whether or not I’ll have internet access this morning, and—

What do you know. The X-Prize people posted my story over on Seat14C.

I have to admit I had my doubts. I’m not the first author to decry Mother Teresa for hanging around with war criminals. This is hardly the first story of mine to describe a near-future plagued by environmental collapse and pervasive government surveillance. I’m probably not even the first person to write a story advocating a sort of Final Solution for the One Percent.

I may be the first one to wrap all those elements into a project explicitly designed  to be Hopeful and Upbeat About the Future and actually get it accepted.  I think maybe I have Kathryn Cramer to thank for that.

And it is hopeful, ultimately. It’s even kind of prescriptive. Of all the 14C stories I’ve read so far (and I haven’t read all of them), “Incorruptible” is the only one which explicitly grapples with an inherent shortcoming of the X-Prize paradigm itself, and suggests a possible (albeit SFnal) fix. It’s not so much cheer-leading as commentary— which is, after all, presumably what this whole SF Advisory board thing is all about.

Still, I’m equal parts surprised, bemused, and gratified that it got through. About the only complaint I have is that they tagged the story with blog and twitter links to a completely different Peter Watts.

Maybe they’re trying to misdirect the hate mail.

 



This entry was posted on Thursday, August 10th, 2017 at 5:55 am and is filed under writing news. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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Michael Luder-Rosefield
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Michael Luder-Rosefield
4 years ago

Oh, nice. Reminds me a bit of that old Niven thing, Pak Protectors.

For anyone unfamiliar: Protectors are the adult-adults of the Pak race; and are utterly inflexible in their mental drive to protect their kin by any means necessary. The thing that turns Paks into Protectors has the same effect on humans.

Just as dogs are kind of wolves who’ve been bred to retain juvenile qualities such as playfulness and curiosity, we ourselves could be said to be juvenilised by our self-domestication. Perhaps our impulsiveness, risk-taking and lack of empathy and consideration of consequences (as hyper-exaggerated in teenagers) is a symptom of this, and we as a race literally need to grow up.

Nestor
Guest
Nestor
4 years ago

>but the chemistry of the brain hasn’t much in twenty years.

Looks like there’s a “changed” missing there. Not sure if it does any good reporting a typo here, sorry if not.

Seems like the same theme as that other short story about the soldier lady, Super utilitarians can be scary.

Congrats on getting published without any drama, lets hope it’s the new trend from now on.

Łukasz
Guest
Łukasz
4 years ago

The story’s ending reminds me of John Brunner’s “The Sheep Look Up”. But I wonder if the hyperconsumers are the only ones to blame. Maybe the solution could be more surgical, targeting the CEOs of the companies the most responsible for the approaching Apocalypse and rewiring them to reform/close their businesses (“Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions”, The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/20/90-companies-man-made-global-warming-emissions-climate-change ). Or maybe by 2037 it would be already too late for that…

Robert
Guest
Robert
4 years ago

I’ve been watching them pile up. Nightstick, flashlight, bulletproof vest.
Fuckin’ utility belts, right?
Fuckin’ sign on his head reading “Why Bother?”
Hey, they love to say shit like “ascertain”.
“Surveillance.”
“Affirmative.”
“I need backup.”
“Adjudicate.”
“Adjudicate”?
Yeah, well…

Ross
Guest
Ross
4 years ago

Very nice work. I’m sure the effort will fail — it just makes too nice of a story. But I can’t see how. Would have to read the novella — which I’m sure won’t get written either.

Seruko
Guest
4 years ago

Lovely

Ted Lemon
Guest
4 years ago

@Łukasz, but of course you _would_ think that!

Anyway, I can see why they accepted it. 🙂

Julian Bond
Guest
Julian Bond
4 years ago

Whoooosh. Thank you.

dpb
Guest
dpb
4 years ago

@ross

I agree it will fail, and I think I know how. The hack makes people well intentioned and forward thinking, which isn’t the same thing as making them smart.

Unless it comes with a cure for gullibility then a well tuned propaganda machine should be able to get people to do a lot more than just echo a few talking points “for the greater good!”

And of course disagreements about the best course of action will always end badly. Someone stands in the way of what is necessary, they have to go.

At least Pak Protectors are fairly bright.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan
4 years ago

@Lucasz

Didn’t “The sheep look up” end in the eventual extinction of man? I mean they’re seeing smoke from America in bloody Ireland

Deseret
Guest
Deseret
4 years ago

And some additional unintended consequences for saving the planet hinted at at the end there. Definitely a Watts piece! 🙂

One imagines, were it part of a novel, less limited by the Xprize requirements, that there’d be some serious opposition in jarhead circles and the discovery that something {“Spend! Consume!”} had already been done and required unwiring. And then a subsequent war for “hearts and minds” unlike most of the previous ones.

Dr No
Guest
Dr No
4 years ago

hummm
live and learn
op did deliver …
XD

livens
Guest
livens
4 years ago

dpb,

You are forgetting the #AGI. If everyone had their own personal AI guiding them along it would work.

Of course if that were the case… you might as well put an AGI in charge anyway.

The K
Guest
The K
4 years ago

They should have given Achilles Desjardins and his lawbreakers that tweak instead. Seems much more efficient and less prone to..deviations.

Incidental thought: Now that everyone is basically suicidal, how big is the chance that the POTUS decides that HE deserves to go out with a bang, and unleashes the nuclear arsenal? If he is anything like the current weasel in the White House….

Great Story though, i would love to read that as fleshed out novella.

Łukasz
Guest
Łukasz
4 years ago

Ryan: @Lucasz

Didn’t “The sheep look up” end in the eventual extinction of man? I mean they’re seeing smoke from America in bloody Ireland

Yes, “The Smoke of That Great Burning.” And one of the characters, Tom Grey, reaches the same conclusion as augmented Malika:

“Well, as I was about to say, it’s sort of ironical, because we’re already engaged, in a sense, in the course of action my findings dictate.
(…)
We can just about restore the balance of the ecology, the biosphere, and so on—in other words we can live within our means instead of on an unrepayable overdraft, as we’ve been doing for the past half-century—if we exterminate the two hundred million most extravagant and wasteful of our species.”

Barbara
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Barbara
4 years ago

Thank you for short story. Always your big fan :* I can’t wait for your new book in Polish.

Johan Larson
Guest
Johan Larson
4 years ago

That’s a very good story, but oh my is it ever a dark vision. I’m surprised they accepted it for publication.

dpb
Guest
dpb
4 years ago

Back to what I said about a cure for gullibility…

By 2037 all the real work will be offshored or done by machines anyway. If you aren’t an owner you are a serf, and if you are a serf you are expendable. Maybe this ending is the one the .001% intended.

True privelege means you aren’t subject to government interference after all.

If the third world brain rewiring stuff isn’t reversible then a fast spreading followup that makes it fatal will probably do the job. A minor tweak to make people enjoy suffering so long as it keeps them in their place would be just perfect.

Quell
Guest
Quell
4 years ago

Nice story, by far the best of those I’ve read on that site.

Although I do think that the rebel alliance would have gamed/simulated the scenario with their general AIs to the point that they knew what they outcome would be. And I think Malika would have come to the same conclusion.

And Americas un-wired young, collateral damage? Lord of the flies and/or slow starvation seems a bit on the dark side even for you.

Johan Larson
Guest
Johan Larson
4 years ago

Peter Watts:

Dark?Really?

The world does get saved, after all. The survivors won’t make the same mistakes again. The gluttons actually ended up paying for their gluttony, and the victims got a second chance.

Mass murder done for the noblest of reasons is still mass murder. So yes, dark. In the story, all the alternatives are worse. Fine, so it was the right choice, but still a terrible and tragic one.

Greggles
Guest
Greggles
4 years ago

I loved the slight of hand you did with the MAGI acronym well done.

And the gender bending of the new christ dying within the instrument of humanities and the earths salvation was great too.

Fun read with a happy ending.

Adrian C
Guest
Adrian C
4 years ago

I was really looking forward to this. Glad to see that it got uploaded.

I don’t typically count myself among the top 200 million, but seeing as I just took a coastal boat cruise, found myself drawn to eating lots of bovine meat products, and am flying back to Toronto tomorrow, I might need to eat nothing but plants grown in a backyard garden, ride bicycles *and* commit ecoterrorism for the rest of my life, in order to pass muster before our incoming BCI overlord(s), whom I am happy to grovel before.

Fat lot of good that will do, what with the rewired disregard for cheap thrills produced by unworthy hyperconsumers groveling before you.

Adrian C
Guest
Adrian C
4 years ago

I goofed. She doesn’t have a BCI.

buyerninety
Guest
buyerninety
4 years ago

I’m not too worried if it ever comes to pass that “The Sheep Look Up” – they’ll get theirs, when “Bears Discover Fire”…

:-Daniel
Guest
4 years ago

This was great fun. Felt like the highspeed neon unicorn version of Collateral.

Great to see Hitchens and Yudkowsky echo through your work. If you still haven’t, check out Robin Hanson, he has lots of memetic ammo that’s your caliber.

:-Daniel
Guest
4 years ago

Oh and it is great to see how your writing is getting more confident and you allow yourself to go more fast-paced. I get a sense you only go as fast as you’re sure you can still draw a viscerally intense picture in my mind. Back in the Rifters Trilogy that took you many pages – by now you can drop a bombshell phrase like “self-printing skyscrapers” and let my imagination take care of the rest. Keep showing off that poetic talent, it shines wonderfully.

Y.
Guest
Y.
4 years ago

Peter Watts: The world does get saved, after all. The survivors won’t make the same mistakes again. The gluttons actually ended up paying for their gluttony, and the victims got a second chance.

By 2037, Chinese will probably be getting to have a bigger eco footprints than Americans. Or into the same ballpark anyway.

Michael Luder-Rosefield: Just as dogs are kind of wolves who’ve been bred to retain juvenile qualities such as playfulness and curiosity, we ourselves could be said to be juvenilised by our self-domestication. Perhaps our impulsiveness, risk-taking and lack of empathy and consideration of consequences (as hyper-exaggerated in teenagers) is a symptom of this, and we as a race literally need to grow up.

No we don’t you fool. Human self-domestication is the only reason we aren’t all on each other’s throats and bashing our brains out. Our impulsiveness, risk.taking and lack of empathy are also vastly improved from ages past.

What we need is judicious biotech programs so each generation that gets born is a little less dim and less defective.

I don’t see why we’d need anything else, to be honest. Once the average person has a brain that works as finely as von Neumann’s did, the big problems – energy, climate, finance, etc, will all get solved shortly.

livens
Guest
livens
4 years ago

I’ve been reading a few of the other seat14c stories, I’m really enjoying each author’s take on the near future. NiceCoin was really cool, the whole idea of a social currency that rewards good behavior.

I do feel like some of the stories end abruptly, perhaps to make way for a forced ‘happy ending’? NiceCoin could have easily went to a very dark place, right up until the last paragraph :).

JoshM
Guest
JoshM
4 years ago

If I’m interpreting the Theresa tweak correctly, it sounds like the problem is with the human discount function (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbolic_discounting).

On a more mundane note – it sounds like the Theresa tweak would also help address obesity, wouldn’t it? If we don’t prioritize that immediate enjoyment of sugar, then we could better focus on our long-term health. Heck, it would fix https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akrasia.

Thanks for the great story – I’m sharing it with others.

red.grzeg
Guest
red.grzeg
4 years ago

Nice story, reminded me somewhat similar simple short story of David Brin, from old DAW anthology:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Giving_Plague

(obviously, spend half an hour searching thru old books :D)

Daniel
Guest
Daniel
4 years ago

Any inspiration from Project Itoh’s Harmony? Because he seemed to have taken alot of inspiration from you in the first place.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Itoh

I’m glad I finally picked up this series, because the Origin Story was hot garbage.

Nestor
Guest
Nestor
4 years ago

I posted a link to the story in the comments of a relevant slatestarcodex post on utilitarians, most people liked it but it but it seems to have badly triggered the resident catholic.

I don’t recommend engaging, someone who loudly criticises a short story while refusing to finish it is being plain rude. The rest of the main post might be interesting. I mean there apparently are people seriously considering the utility of triggering a false vacuum apocalypse to prevent suffering in subatomic particles

Take that

gregm
Guest
4 years ago

Glad they finally published Incorruptible. I had begun to think that it wasn’t going to happen. Frankly, I was disappointed in the 8-10 stories I read when you first announced it: they all needed an editor pretty badly.

You, OTOH, packed a lot of entertainment into 5100 or so words, and there was little an editor might have done. Except for one thing: no support for the notion that there would be enough suicidal hyper-consumers. But perhaps that’s just me.

Don’t get me wrong: I thoroughly enjoyed it, and wish there could be more of it — the novella Ross and The K were wishing for would do nicely. You remain the sole writer that I just auto-buy, so if such a thing is ever placed in a Watts collection, I’ll have my wish.

gregm
Guest
4 years ago

You’re right, of course. I somehow took away the idea that it was only the tweak that was being induced. I’ve formed a bad habit of not reading sc-fi very closely. Usually not required, but for your stuff it clearly is.

Mark Russell
Guest
Mark Russell
4 years ago

Nestor:
I posted a link to the story in the comments of a relevant slatestarcodex post on utilitarians, most people liked it but it but it seems to have badly triggered the resident catholic.

Wow. I think that little exchange might have been more dystopic than anything Peter has written. (Yeah, viz XKCD, “There’s someone wrong on the internet!”).

Anyhow, my wife and I just had our second kid, so I’m proud to be expanding my carbon footprint and doing my part to accelerate the ruin of the Earth. My genotype eagerly awaits the coals~ You’re welcome, Peter!

U-up
Guest
U-up
4 years ago

Best submission to the contest IMO.

Could Malika have induced similar effects to the virus through the Emergency Broadcast System?

Strassers Schnapps Haus
Guest
Strassers Schnapps Haus
4 years ago

I’m sure you know about this work
http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/16/3/7.html
so why wont an ethnocentric group arise & just clobber & conquer your utilitarian bliss ninnies? Gnon always bats last & hardest.

vodkaferret
Guest
vodkaferret
4 years ago

It’s probably a good thing Siri Keeton didn’t read that story before heading out on Theseus – or he might have had an answer for Sarasti.

– yeah, sure, consciousness doesn’t do much…yet. But give society a choice between discomfort now and catastrophe in ten years, it’ll choose catastrophe every time. Because it’s ten years away. Because someone will come up with something. Because the Green Party runs the world, so the whole thing’s probably a hoax anyway. Neocortex tells us we’re doomed; brain stem keeps us from believing it. .

So consciousness might be mostly useless right now, but if we can keep alive long enough, maybe it will finally become quick enough, powerful enough, that instead of revoking the nerve signals the brainstem sent already, it will start to step in before the brain stem does. And maybe the only way for a civilisation to survive the great filter… is for consciousness to take over. Brain stem is great for avoiding predators that leap out of the grass, not so good at seeing what’s going to happen to that grass down the line….